More and more farmers in California are using strip-till according to surveys by the state’s Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup.
“The practice is particularly well suited to dairy silage production in California where dairymen typically rotate from winter wheat or triticale right into spring corn,” says Jeff Mitchell, a University of California cropping systems specialist at the Kearney Ag Center, Parlier.
Mitchell says strip-tilling allows farmers to lower overall production costs, speed up turnaround times between crops, reduce labor and lower dust generated by field work. In addition to all of these benefits, yields from strip-till are generally comparable to those with conventional intercrop tillage approaches, he says.
One of California’s key proponents and innovators with strip-tillage is Dino Giacomazzi, a dairy farmer who uses strip-till on his farm near Hanford, in the San Joaquin Valley. Giacomazzi began small strip-tillage trials on his 300-acre dairy farm in 2005. Since then, he has worked hard to refine and perfect strip-till corn and no-till wheat production.
“Careful planning and preparation in the fall ahead of strip-till corn are key, since a number of new management considerations are best negotiated and implemented early on in the transition to strip-tillage,” Giacomazzi says.
“Conventional silage corn is customarily seeded into 30- to-40-inch-wide beds, while strip-tillage corn is flat-planted. Shallow berms between irrigation checks that serve to guide surface irrigation water down a field are required to be properly configured well ahead of the corn season using spacing that permits strip-tilling and corn planting with no skips in the field.”
Mitchell says weed and irrigation management in the spring have been key in strip-till management in California dairy-silage production fields. Giacomazzi typically strip-tills after chopping wheat or triticale in the spring. Then he pre-irrigates using flood irrigation before planting corn. He also usually tries to apply glyphosate within one week of planting corn.
Since he started strip-tilling, Giacomazzi has used a variety of strip-till rigs. Earlier this year, he began a partnership with a neighboring dairy farmer. Giacomazzi does the strip-tillage for both farms and his neighbor plants the corn.
(An ongoing strip-till corn production planning video featuring Giacomazzi is available at the Workgroup’s web site at http://ucanr.org/ct)
Quite recently, strip-tillage and cover crops have begun to be used by producers of fresh-market and processing tomatoes, Mitchell says. These tomato growers use strip-till in the spring following a short-season, winter cover crop.
Jesse Sanchez and Alan Sano of Sano Farms in Firebaugh, have been using a modified Orthman 1tRIPr to strip-till. They apply herbicide into tomato transplanting beds following a burned-down, winter cover crop of triticale.
Their system reduces tillage passes and cuts overall cost. It also has added organic matter to the soil during the past 6 years, Mitchell says. Sanchez and Sano received the Workgroup’s Conservation Tillage Farmer Innovator award for their work in 2010. Details of their strip-till production approaches can also be found in more detail at the Workgroup’s website.